The mosquito problem is, my researchers tell me, approximately seventy billion times worse down south in the city of Baton Rouge. My badly bitten arms concur. It becomes swiftly evident on visiting such places that the main advantage to a climate like Britain’s is that most of the unpleasant critters don’t want to live there — one need not fear being devoured by mosquitoes, home invasion by cockroaches, being bled dry by leeches or any of the other myriad terrors that abound in warmer climes. For that I, and my arms, are extremely grateful.
We spent only a single night in Baton Rouge, returning to Monroe today, which is not really long enough to see everyone as we would wish. Steve, Debbie and Nic came over to the Traylors’ for dinner and we surprised Dave Marley with a late night visit to the Starbucks at which he works part time. As instructed by Jenna I sampled their coffeeless Vanilla Bean Frappuccino — yes, the flavour is nice; no, it’s not really a milkshake, being too creamy and not frozen enough. Jeff was also around since he’s working this week before going back up to Monroe on Friday. Jane has wandered off on some kind of Tex-Mex holiday so I couldn’t catch up with her.
Today I rounded off the big camera purchase with a UV lens filter (the lens is large at 72mm, limiting options somewhat), receiving exemplary service at Ritz Camera, and a compact but nondescript camera bag (i.e. one that doesn’t scream “steal this!”). On a related note the May Week gallery has been massively extended with a host of tardy photos. Now that those are done, expect to see some USA pictures appearing shortly. I am still learning to use the new camera, particularly as regards light levels, so decent pictures may be less frequent for the latter part of the trip.
Today I have lots of time to write and no one with whom to talk due to the publication of a certain novel which shall not be named. In fact many of you probably aren’t reading this until tomorrow because you have to hit page 759 before your bodily functions resume regular service. This house now holds enough copies of the book to keep a steady fire burning for the next week (though in this climate why would one wish to?) as all my cousins are avidly consuming chapter after chapter, along with my sister, having picked up the books at midnight. There are also a few spare copies lying around though I did not really understand the explanation. I think it probably had something to do with increased efficiency and literary osmosis. Suffice to say that with most of my family reduced to the status of willing thrall, I now realise just how antisocial an activity reading a book can be.
On the other hand it leaves me free to write to you fine people, so at least there’s a silver lining. There is little really to report since we arrived at Monroe. The last leg of the journey involved travelling through a pleasant national park in Virginia and then driving pretty much non-stop until we reached Louisiana, stopping only to eat and sleep. Here we have been relaxing with family in various different ways, from frenetic bouts of Gears of War on the Xbox 360 with Caleb to playing everything under the sun with Karleigh. There has, admittedly, been rather a lot of the latter. After a brief shyness upon our arrival, she now adores the attention particularly upon discovering a stash of old photos and videos of her on my laptop. A very bright three-year-old, she swiftly learned how the computer worked and has already spent hours eagerly watching herself and showing anyone else who will look, now becoming slightly bored by the repetition (and only slightly) so instead demanding that more photos be taken of her to expand the selection available. With my new camera now ordered (the Canon EOS 400D, which here goes by the odd “Digital Rebel” moniker, along with an EF 28-135mm IS lens), this request is unsurprisingly rather likely to be fulfilled.
We’ve spent the last couple of days checking out the USA’s capitol city, firstly the major government buildings, followed by a slightly Smithsonian flavour. There is a distinct uniform style to much of the city with a sleek and rectangular federal theme. It was strange to note that closest architectural comparison to places like the Library of Congress are the buildings of Soviet Russia. Or, indeed, Churchill College, Cambridge. Although the police presence was unsurprisingly evident, security around the White House was far laxer than we had anticipated (though they were visibly stalking the roof), allowing us a reasonable view. Perhaps the President was out.
American public transport exists in a usable fashion only in the major cities, and here the Metro was a conveniently accessible way to travel around. The lines are labelled only by their colours (which works since the system has far fewer than London) while the stations share an identical cavernous appearance. Although this makes them feel larger, the lighting in many of the stations is woefully poor and I cannot say I would feel safe travelling in them late at night. More impressive, though, are the multilevel stations where lines meet, forming a perpendicular cross.
The Smithsonian Institution funds and controls most of the educational and arts resources in the city including a stunning indoor botanical garden which is regulated by an automated system of bewildering precision. A little further out they also run a self-proclaimed National Zoo which, frankly, I found somewhat depressing. My views on zoos remain, while not ambivalent, decidedly mixed. Having seen animals in the wild on safari, the caged alternative is not only less appealing, but does in many cases seem cruel. It may be understood in terms of protecting near-extinct species (they have done sterling work regarding Panda fertility) but one finds it difficult to accept the Smithsonian researchers’ claim of attempting to “save” the Asian elephant. Similarly, even where it may be necessary, cramped enclosures with little to occupy the evidently bored animals hardly seems ideal. The zoo model is not inherently bad — I was particularly impressed by one in Singapore — but I struggle to think of a Western example I can wholeheartedly recommend. Nevertheless, it did provide ample sport for my camera (still the old one, for those paying attention), with some of the results visible below. Full size versions will hit the Gallery in due course. We expect to reach Louisiana in a day or two and then those of you who I know have been waiting will be able to see the young girl into which Karleigh has turned.
To describe this post as overdue would be like saying the Crusades occasionally got a little rough. I had so much to talk about during May Week and graduation (and precious little time, it being my last proper week in Cambridge with everyone) that I couldn’t really face attempting it in one go. Then there was the actual affair of graduation (surreal, lots of hat waving and Latin that was surprisingly easy to follow, more surreality on holding an incredibly sparse certificate that apparently justified my last three years of overall thoroughly enjoyable existence) followed by flathunting in London (repeating the same spiel to almost a dozen estate agents and taking lots of photos when viewing so that Kirsten could feel what the E3 crowd would call “virtually there”).
And now I am blogging to you over the conveniently free wifi from a Holiday Inn in Philadelphia (the city, not the cheese spread). So it’s been a slightly hectic ride that resulted in me not really wanting to start an explanatory post that I could never really finish. So instead we’ll start afresh in the USA (just call me Pilgrim Father) and I’ll refer back to previous events as when I get photos sorted out accordingly! Incidentally a new camera is definitely on the cards while I’m here given the magnificent exchange rate (just shy of 2:1) so you’ll be able to enjoy the sights in even higher quality.
We flew out here on Air India which was distinctly lacking in terms of in-flight entertainment, unless one counts a large screen at the front of the cabin showing a Hindi film with subtitles placed too low for anyone behind the first two rows to read. The staff were friendly enough, despite a rudely unprofessional manager wandering around the Heathrow check-in desk. The flight was made more bearable by flying only to New York rather than inland to Dallas, chopping off a good 2 hours. Beyond marching down Orwellian hallways of one-way mirrored glass lined under the stern gaze of continuous CCTV surveillance, immigration itself was surprisingly swift and hassle-free, mostly, one presumes, given their relief in seeing a British Passport amidst a sea of Indian ones. Fingerprinting to “keep the US open” and for my security still left me somewhat baffled. Whatever makes them feel safe, I suppose.
Posts over the next handful of days will depend on friendly hotels, but expect regular updates once we reach Louisiana and a proper house.